Duke’s Jayson Tatum reacts against South Carolina during the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena on March 19, 2017 in Greenville, South Carolina.
Before the Celtics agreed in principle to a trade that would send the No. 1 overall pick to the Philadelphia 76ers, it was hard to find many NBA Draft experts who didn’t believe the Celtics would be selecting Markelle Fultz on June 22. Danny Ainge has a track record of surprising people with his moves, particularly at the very top of the NBA Draft. Last season, Ainge went against many mock drafts that projected him to pick Providence point guard Kris Dunn and unexpectedly went with Cal small forward Jaylen Brown instead.
Now that Fultz is likely to be in Philly, there are other prospects who could be Boston-bound. Here’s a look at three players the Celtics could consider drafting.
Position: Small forward
Weight: 203 lbs
2016-17 stats: 16.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 3.0 apg, 50.4 FG%, 37.3 3PT%
Overview: While UCLA guard Lonzo Ball may get most of the national headlines, Jackson is the most intriguing name connected to the Celtics right now. Before the Boston-Philly trade, one rival general manager told ESPN’s Chad Ford this week that he expects Ainge to take the versatile wing.
“Jackson is an Ainge player all the way,” the GM said. “Tough, athletic, long, versatile, elite motor. If he’s keeping the pick, Jackson just to me, far and away, is the most Celtics-type player for them to draft. From all my conversations with them, I’m convinced they’ll take Jackson No. 1.”
The interesting twist to that report from Ford is the fact that Jackson reportedly cancelled a workout with the Celtics earlier this week, amid rumors he has been promised by another team in the top three of the NBA Draft. The Celtics would have a bit of a logjam at the small forward spot alongside Jaylen Brown and Jae Crowder if Jackson were selected, which may explain his hesitancy to let Boston get a better look at him.
The Celtics have been scouting Jackson for years though and may still be attracted to his elite defensive prowess for his size. His outside shooting remains a major question mark (56.6 percent free throw shooter) but that hasn’t stopped Ainge from rolling the dice on a prospect before (see Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown). You can never have enough versatile wings in today’s NBA, and Jackson should be a good one for a long time wherever he gets drafted.
Position: Point guard
Weight: 190 lbs
2016-17 stats: 14.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 7.6 apg, 55.1 FG%, 41.2 3PT%
Overview: Like Jackson, Ball and his father Lavar have made it clear that they prefer not to be picked by Boston. Fighting the likes of Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart for minutes in the backcourt is not an ideal scenario for the UCLA point guard, but will that stance matter to Ainge after Ball refused to work out for the C’s?
The other wild card in play here is Ball’s draft stock, which may be on the decline after a lackluster workout with the Lakers. He’s reportedly reaching out to other lottery teams in case the Lakers decide to pass on him, which could create a scenario where the Celtics could still nab him at No. 3.
The question the Celtics’ brass must answer is just how well they think Ball’s dynamic offensive skillset will translate to the pro level. He’s got terrific size for his position and captained one of the best offenses in country last year, but he’s not a great shot creator. His shooting percentages are high, but he’s a pass-first player with questionable shooting form that could cause problems in the halfcourt. There’s no question the potential and talent is there at age 19, making Ball an appealing piece to build with for the long-term. With Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas set for big raises next summer in free agency, bringing in a pure point guard like Ball would be a potential indicator that Boston is ready to move on from one of them.
Position: Small forward
Weight: 204 lbs
2016-17 stats: 16.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.2 bpg, 1.3 spg, .433 FG%, .358 3PT%
Overview: The hype around the Duke freshman small forward has been relatively quiet compared to the rest of the other top lottery prospects. Tatum built off of his Gatorade high school national player of the year honor in 2016 with a strong freshman year at Duke. He’s arguably the most well-rounded wing in this year’s draft class, showing the ability to score from inside and out.
He finishes well in traffic thanks to his size and strength and has strong mechanics on his jump shot, which would be a welcome change from some of Ainge’s recent picks. Tatum is also a tremendous rebounder for his size, showing clear signs already that he’ll be a capable small-ball power forward at the NBA level.
A few mock drafts are projecting Tatum to go in the top 3, making Tatum a potential target for the C’s. There would be some potential for overlap with Tatum and Brown on the same roster, particularly if the Celtics plan on targeting Gordon Hayward in free agency as well. However, the C’s would be dealing from a position of strength in that scenario and could move Brown or Crowder in a trade to add talent to other areas of the roster.